He flabbergasts the human race
By gliding on the water’s face
With ease, celerity, and grace;
But if he ever stopped to think
Of how he did it, he would sink
–The Waterbeetle, Hilaire Beloc
By: Mark Glennon*
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Governor JB Pritzker’s combined Budget and State of the State Address this Wednesday. From it, many Illinoisans will decide whether Pritzker has any real plan for breaking the state’s death spiral. With that, many will decide whether to stay or flee.
Throughout his campaign, Pritzker’s vision for the state centered on a progressive income tax. Primarily based on it, Pritzker promised not just fairer tax burdens but fiscal stability. He further led many to believe that tax would make his list of other promises realistic, including a middle class tax cut, property tax relief, more funding for early and higher education, and expanded healthcare access.
But he glided on the water’s face by refusing repeated demands to put up specific numbers on how much additional revenue would be raised and from which income levels. Voters evidently were not bothered.
Emboldened by that success, the Pritzker Administration repeated the same heavy yet vague reliance on a progressive income tax in its first major announcement on budget plans contained in a speech given last week by Deputy Governor Dan Hynes.
Hynes seemed to acknowledge that only duct tape can hold the budget together for now, but things will be different after two years if the Fair Tax can be passed. “The fair income tax will change the arc of this state’s finances in a very positive way – forever,” he said. Still no specifics, however.
That won’t work any longer.
As Pritzker himself emphasized often during his campaign, uncertainty is a major issue in itself. How much will taxes go up? On whom? What will that solve? What will be left unresolved? From the largest corporations to young people entering the workforce, the questions can no longer be postponed. If Pritzker really wants to reduce uncertainty, he better get concrete on his signature tax initiative.
For the state itself, long term planning is impossible without specifics on revenue projections. A consensus seems to be forming on the notion that Illinois’ problems can only be solved with a longer term plan, perhaps five years. Hynes said pretty much that in his speech. That’s appropriate, but concrete revenue projections are essential if any long-term plan is to be credible.
Fairness is a further rationale behind the progressive income tax, but that’s a separate and more complex issue deserving a lengthy discussion in itself.
Whether it’s the fiscal crisis or fairness, Pritzker better realize he can’t still glide over the water on vague hopes for a progressive tax panacea. Either he gets specific on Wednesday or he’ll sink like that waterbeetle.
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.